Church planting is full of many joys. There is perhaps no greater joy than seeing people hear and respond to the gospel. You also get to experience the joy of seeing God establish the church, which includes seeing new believers grow deeper in their faith and watching God’s people to use their gifts to serve others and bear witness to the gospel. There are small joys like when you see God answer specific prayers, whether it be for an opportunity to have a neighbor over for dinner or for the provision of a meeting place for your church. Other joys include seeing God’s provision whether it be through a supporting church or the generosity of another believer.
Throughout my own church planting journey, I’ve often returned to Luke 10 and Jesus’ sending out of the seventy-two. In this passage, we see Jesus invite His disciples to participate in the mission with Him. He sends them out to proclaim the kingdom of God. In verse 17, Luke tells us that they “returned with joy” and told Jesus all about the powerful work that God through them.
In response, Jesus does something interesting. He explains to the His disciples that He has given them spiritual power to accomplish His mission. All that they are rejoicing in comes as a result of His hand at work through them. “However,” Jesus exhorts them, “don’t rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). He does not squelch their joy, He redirects it. The temptation of church planter is to find joy in the work that God has called us to rather than in the God who called us.
While there is a lot of joy in church, it is not always easy to find in the daily grind of ministry. The work of sharing the gospel is often harder and more complex than you had planned. The work of sanctification is full of difficulty and disappointment. Equipping believers to do the work of the ministry is messier than the textbooks in seminary made it seem. I’m not even thinking about the challenges fundraising and administrative details that can easily engulf any church planter. Nor am I even talking about the challenges of loving and leading your family well in the midst of planting.
All of these challenges come with the assignment of church planting. There is no escaping them. However, the assignment of church planting is not the primary source of our joy. No doubt we should rejoice in what God is doing in and through our church. However, we must remember the words of Jesus, “rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Church planter, rejoice that you belong to God by virtue of the complete work of Jesus Christ. Rejoice that you are not your own, but belong to God. Rejoice that your security and identity are not found in your performance but in your position as a child of God.
I’m convinced that what you rejoice in will be what sustains you in ministry. If you rejoice in the results of your ministry or your gifting for ministry, your joy will ebb and flow with the inevitable highs and lows of ministry. What’s worse is that you may burn out if the lows last longer than the highs. However, if you find your joy in belonging to God through Christ, you will be sustained in the lows and anchored in the highs. If all of this is true, then the most serious task for the church planter is daily finding your joy in Christ. The conferences are helpful, the strategies are important, team building matters, loving your city is vital, but don’t neglect the deepening of your joy in Christ. Your ministry depends on it. Make devotion to Christ your first priority and see how ministry for Christ flows from it.